The Christmas holidays can be a difficult time for overseas workers and students, without the company of family and friends and all the holiday traditions of their respective countries. But for workers and students from the Philippines, the local Church has brought one of those traditions to Penang. Simbang Gabi, or the “Dawn Mass”, is a central feature of the Christmas holiday in the Philippines, with tens of thousands attending early morning Mass over nine days. The faithful are called to worship by bells and lanterns, and they gather afterwards to share traditional Filipino foods. For the second consecutive year, Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Penang is hosting nine days of Christmas Mass, but in the evening instead of the morning. Father Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Youth at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, was brought to Penang to celebrate the special Masses. But the idea for hosting the Simbang Gabi came from a local parish priest, Father Dominic Santhiyagu, who wanted to express gratitude for Filipino workers and students in the country. “We as the Catholic Church have to show we care for the Filipinos wherever they are. Being here in a foreign land, they have made a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “For me, [Simbang Gabi] is a beautiful tradition, in which [Filipinos] will be more spiritually filled during Christmas.” Ronald Masangkay, who began working in Penang two years ago, agreed. “I feel very happy every time I attend the Simbang Gabi, like I am celebrating the season in the Philippines,” he said. “It lessens the feeling of loneliness. I also like the fellowship after Mass where we eat Filipino food.” Jelorie Peroja, a student who came to Penang almost a year ago, said “the liturgy, the songs and the presence of fellow Filipinos brought tears to my eyes because they reminded me of home.” This year’s Masses will focus on the topic of evangelization through liturgy, with a special dance scheduled for Christmas Eve and a performance of the panuluyan, a play depicting the biblical story of the Nativity.
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